Circlers celebrate 70 years on square dance floor

If someone puts you in a box, square dance. Or dance circles around them. Or do both at the Lebanon Square Circlers.

The Lebanon Square Circlers club is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month. The dance club began in 1949, and claims to be the second oldest square dance club in Oregon.

They began dancing when the American Legion and Auxiliary sponsored dance lessons in March at the high school gym, led by instructor Erma Weir. That same year, Mrs. Leonard Wood of the Strawberry Festival Board of Directors was asked to arrange its first folk dancing exhibition for the fair, which was to include 50 promenaders from Corvallis, as well as 25 couples from Lebanon.

Today, the Square Circlers boast about 40 members, with some coming from as far away as Corvallis and Salem. One of the oldest dancers in the club is Steve Christensen, who is approaching 89 years old. He met his wife, Grace Christensen, at the 2014 Strawberry Festival dance.

In fact, several dance couples met their current spouses through the Square Circlers, said Kaynor Heineck, who also met her husband at one the Square Circlers classes.

The saying they like to quote is, “Square dancing is friendship set to music.” Members also like to tell people that studies have shown square dancing helps combat dementia. Another interesting fact is square dancing can be done anywhere in the world, even if you don’t speak the language, because square dance calls are always done in English.

The Square Circlers don’t just square dance; they also do circle dancing, which is choreographed ballroom dancing, said Jackie Gale, who cues for the club.

Gale has square danced off and on since childhood. She joined the Lebanon Square Circlers in 2004 after she and her husband saw the dancers during the Strawberry Festival.

“We really liked the caller and cuer that were there; they were very good,” Gale said.

Apparently, the caller (for square dancing) and cuer (for round dancing) can make or break a club. If they’re still using “elevator music,” they risk losing interest from dancers, said Gale, who regularly calls dances in the area.

“(People) kind of have the impression, I think, that it’s real old-timey music from the forties or fifties, and yet in reality it’s much more modern music,” said Wanda Frenzel, club president.

“If you want to be really good at what you do, you use the music the people like, and you use the music people can relate to,” Gale said.

Some callers prefer old western songs, but many now use modern music, mixed in with holiday or theme music, gospel, rock and roll, and pop, Frenzel said. She said it’s somewhat difficult to attract younger generations, although some home schoolers do attend the classes for P.E. credit.

A square dance club in Silverton, the Silver City Squares, is comprised of younger generations who prefer faster music, and they go to big dance competitions, she noted.

People also tend to picture square dance attire as the ultra-poofy petticoats and western wear, but many of the Square Circlers wear casual attire or prairie skirts, she said.

“There’s still some that will wear the traditional foo-foo, but I don’t wear it; I don’t like it. And that’s one reason why people won’t get into it, is because of the outfits. But you don’t have to wear them; you can wear jeans. We don’t care.”

Square dancing is Oregon’s official state dance, and America’s national folk dance. The Lebanon Square Circler’s club colors are red and white, and its insignia is the strawberry.

They celebrate the Strawberry Festival every year by sponsoring dances and activities, and participating in the parade.

Lebanon Square Circlers host dances from September to June every first and third Saturday night at the Odd Fellows Hall, 20 East Ash Street. They offer lessons beginning in September, and welcome interested couples and individuals. The birthday dance is from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 20, at the IOOF Hall, 20 Ash St.